*EPF219 04/01/2003
Text: Gates Foundation Gives $60 Million to Accelerate Microbicide Research
(Development of HIV-preventing gel sought for women's protection) (910)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $60 million March 31 to boost the development of microbicides to prevent HIV transmission. It is the greatest financial commitment ever made to this area of HIV/AIDS research, according to a press release from the Gates Foundation.

Microbicides are products in the form of a gel or cream that are applied topically to the genital area as a means to prevent HIV transmission. This line of research has been under way for some time, but it does not have major backing from the pharmaceutical industry and has not produced a successful formulation.

"A microbicide would put the power of protection in the hands of women and help dramatically reduce the global spread of HIV," said Dr. Helene Gayle, director of HIV, TB, and reproductive health for the Gates Foundation, according to the press release.

The Gates Foundation is giving the grant to the International Partnership for Microbicides, a group formed in 2002 with backing from multiple donors to accelerate discovery and development of an effective anti-HIV microbicide.

Following is the text of the press release:

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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
March 31, 2003

Gates Foundation makes $60 million grant to accelerate HIV/AIDS microbicide research

Record grant will allow "venture capital" approach to microbicide development

NEW YORK -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced its commitment to make a $60 million grant to the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) to accelerate the discovery, development, and accessibility of topical microbicides to prevent HIV transmission. The grant is the largest ever made to support microbicide research.

"We salute the Gates Foundation for its vision and generosity. This grant opens the door to new scientific avenues as well as an innovative, investment-based approach to spurring HIV microbicide development," said Zeda Rosenberg, Sc.D., chief executive officer of IPM. "By acting as a 'venture capital fund' for microbicides, IPM can attract new investors and researchers to the field from both the public and private sectors."

An effective microbicide is urgently needed to help women protect themselves from HIV infection. According to UNAIDS, two million women were newly infected with HIV in 2002. In sub-Saharan Africa, twice as many young women as young men are infected with HIV.

"A microbicide would put the power of protection in the hands of women and help dramatically reduce the global spread of HIV," said Helene Gayle, M.D., M.P.H., Director of HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "This goal is scientifically feasibleˇ¦ˇ¦with sufficient resources for research and development, we may see the first effective product by the end of the decade."

However, current private and public sector spending on microbicides is very limited. For example, of the microbicides under development today, none has a major pharmaceutical company sponsor.

IPM's scientific strategy envisions financing the development of new, cutting edge products as well as innovative technologies, such as new drug delivery approaches, that could be shared across the entire microbicide-development field. IPM will also finance the development of infrastructure for conducting clinical trials.

"The Gates Foundation's injection of new resources will make industry sit up and take notice," predicted Craig Wheeler, president of Chiron BioPharmaceuticals, a unit of Chiron Corp. "IPM has essentially been transformed into a $100 million venture capital fund. This will certainly draw many new entrants into microbicide research."

In order to encourage greater investment in the field, IPM will provide targeted grants to both public and private microbicide developers to support research and development. In exchange for IPM's support, microbicide developers will agree to provide their products at low cost in the developing world, where the need for a microbicide is greatest.

The Rockefeller Foundation has pledged $15 million to IPM in March 2002. A range of other donors, including the governments of the Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom, Norway and Denmark; the World Bank, and the United National Population Fund, bring IPM's total resources to nearly $100 million.

"The investments by the Gates Foundation and others may offer a better chance of survival for women who are disproportionately at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Their future and the future of their children may depend on our political will coupled with urgent and wise investments," said Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. The Rockefeller Foundation hosted a luncheon in New York today at which the Gates Foundation grant was announced.

Microbicides are products such as gels or creams that are applied topically to genital mucosal surfaces to prevent or significantly reduce the transmission of HIV and other disease-causing organisms during intercourse.

The International Partnership for Microbicides was established in 2002 to accelerate the discovery, development and accessibility of microbicides to prevent transmission of HIV. The organization's goal is to improve the efficiency of all efforts to deliver a safe and effective microbicide as soon as possible. IPM is governed by an international board of directors chaired by Mahmoud Fathalla, M.D., Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Assiut University in Egypt.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is building upon the unprecedented opportunities of the 21st century to improve equity in global health and learning. Led by Bill Gates' father, William H. Gates, Sr., and Patty Stonesifer, the Seattle-based foundation has an endowment of approximately $24 billion.

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(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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